As The Election Gets Underway, Boris Johnson Looks Beatable | Sunday National | November 2019

Boris Johnson is beatable.

That’s the core lesson from the first few days of this general election campaign.

The Tories have always had a clear strategy: hammer home the party’s determination to remove Britain from the EU — and crush Jeremy Corbyn.

And yet, since Wednesday, the prime minister has veered wildly off message.

He’s defended Britain’s business elite from the “Stalinism” of higher taxes, mangled the details of his own Brexit plan, and dodged face-to-face contact with Scottish voters on a whistle-stop tour of Moray.

Johnson is meant to be the Tories’ chief electoral asset.

For years, he was billed as a uniquely appealing One Nation conservative, capable of winning votes right across the country, from Islington and Ilford to Oldham and Edinburgh.

But there can’t be many people left who still buy that characterisation.

Johnson’s leadership style is deeply polarizing.

Some sections of the UK electorate are obviously charmed by his bumbling jester act.

Many are not.

The prime minister’s sub-zero approval ratings pose a sizeable challenge for the Conservatives, particularly in Scotland.

In the absence of Ruth Davidson’s mediating — if exaggerated — liberal influence, he represents the party’s inescapable public face.

Talking to SNP activists in the marginal Tory-held seat of Stirling this week, I was told that voters were already registering their dislike of Johnson, unprompted, on the doorsteps.

There is a tangible public appetite to get rid of him — and this highlights a fundamental weakness for the Tories’ ahead of 12 December.

The Conservatives didn’t want to fight this election without having first delivered Brexit — they were bounced into it by circumstances beyond their control.

Now, nine years into government, they are faced with the Herculean task of having to win not just a convincing victory, but a full-blown Commons majority.

Anything less could see them locked out of power at Westminster by an informal alliance of opposition parties led by Labour and the SNP.

As well as Johnson, the Tories’ other major disadvantage in this campaign is their track record in office.

This week, the Chancellor, Savid Javid, pointed to headline growth figures as evidence that he and his colleagues have engineered a sustained economic recovery.

In fact, Javid’s figures are anaemic by international standards and growth will be rapidly cancelled out by Brexit, if and when it finally takes place.

Moreover — after almost a decade of spending cuts, stagnant wages, and rising inequality — the UK looks and feels like an increasingly hostile place, seriously in need of radical economic and constitutional reform.

To that extent, the Tories have nothing positive to offer.

Johnson has promised fresh investment in the NHS, an increase in police numbers, and a handful of new infrastructure projects.

But his rhetoric smacks of crude retail politics — at any rate, does anyone actually believe he’ll do what he says if he is re-elected?

The Labour Party, by contrast, has an expansive political vision to sell.

The ideas advanced by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have the potential to be transformative: a Green New Deal, a four-day working week, a multi-billion pound northern infrastructure fund, and democratic ownership of the economy.

Corbyn and McDonnell have embraced leftwing populism and are convinced they can marshall widespread support for their prospectus.

They may well be right.

On a case-by-case basis, Labour’s policies are hugely popular with the electorate.

A majority of voters want to see the UK’s dysfunctional rail and energy networks brought back under public control, they want the rich to pay more tax, and they believe in a bigger welfare state.

But Labour’s problems aren’t exactly minor, either.

The party’s campaign launch was marred by the resignation of deputy leader Tom Watson on Wednesday and then by a string of coordinated defections from rightwing former PLP members.

Ex-Labour MP Ian Austin told the BBC on Thursday morning that Corbyn had “spent his entire time in politics working with … extremists” and was, therefore, “completely unfit to lead our country.”

The fact that Austin himself has been one of most vocal opponents of immigration in parliament over recent years, even going so far as to publish his own anti-migrant manifesto back in 2014, seems to have been lost on the state broadcaster.

Yet the blanket press coverage his attack on Corbyn received highlights how fraught this race is going to be for the current Labour leadership.

Corbyn and McDonnell aren’t just struggling to get their message across in the face of a hostile media — parts of their own party would be happy to see them lose, too.

Life is much more straightforward for the SNP.

The nationalists are unified, they enjoy a double-digit lead in the polls, and their rivals are adrift.

Out on the campaign trail in Stirling — the SNP’s top target seat — party activists seemed confident, if not quite buoyant, about their chances.

But they also recognized that expectations were running high in this election and that a failure to meet them would be demoralizing.

My guess is that the SNP will be disappointed if the party returns anything south of 45 seats in December — although a return to the halcyon days of 2015, when 56 of Scotland’s 59 MPs answered to Nicola Sturgeon, is probably not on the cards.

The commentariat in London has persuaded itself that independence supporters are secretly hoping for a Tory majority, with the aim of further undermining the credibility of the Union.

I’ve seen no evidence of that.

One senior SNP politician told me he was entirely relaxed about the idea of propping up Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.

Corbyn has, after all, accepted that Scotland’s right to determine its own future should ultimately be decided in Scotland, by the Holyrood parliament.

Holyrood won’t get that chance if Boris Johnson remains as prime minister.

But as we’ve seen from the past few days, there’s no reason why he should.

Read the original piece at thenational.scot

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